Saturday 19 October 2019

Averil Power: 'We have an amazing pool of talented cancer researchers here - you can help them save lives'

(stock picture)
(stock picture)

Averil Power

By supporting Daffodil Day today, each of us can play our part in saving lives. This week, the Irish Cancer Society announced two breakthroughs from our cancer researchers which may improve, and even save, lives of cancer patients in Ireland and across the world.

Dr Antoinette Perry and her team in UCD have found a potential new way to more accurately diagnose prostate cancer in men through use of a simple urine test. This would equip men with the vital information they need to increase their chances of survival.

And, since 2013, Dr Naoise Synnott has set out to develop a targeted drug therapy for patients with triple-negative breast cancer. This is a particularly aggressive type of breast cancer. Unlike some other cancers, no innovative drugs are currently available to treat it, just standard chemotherapy.

Thanks to the public's donations, the Irish Cancer Society's BREAST-PREDICT research centre was able to support Naoise in her goal.

Now Irish women with the advanced form of this disease will soon be enrolled on a clinical trial for a potentially life-saving new drug. These women will be the first patients with triple-negative breast cancer in the world to receive this treatment.

Irish researchers, like Antoinette and Naoise, have always punched well above their weight.

When we think about cancer research today, 1914 Dublin or Cavan in the 1920s would not immediately spring to mind. Yet, it was in Dublin in 1914 that one of the first breakthroughs in modern radiotherapy was made. In Cavan in the 1920s, a young girl, Moya Cole, attended primary school in Carrickfergus. She would grow up to pioneer Tamoxifen, a drug that has saved the lives of countless women with breast cancer.

When people ask me why it's important to invest in cancer research in Ireland, these are just some of the stories I tell.

I also tell them the personal stories of hope from Irish men and women who are alive today thanks to cancer trials, such as those carried out by Cancer Trials Ireland, which we are proud to support. Women like Rhona, who was told she had months to live but is still thriving years later thanks to a clinical trial. And men like Christopher, a grandad from Galway, who has seen his blood cancer shrink by 90pc thanks to an Irish Cancer Society co-funded trial.

When Irish Cancer Society researchers make a breakthrough that has the potential to save or improve lives, each one of our donors is part of that achievement.

When we first started Daffodil Day, only three out of 10 Irish patients survived a cancer diagnosis. Today, six in 10 do.

Thanks in large part to cancer research, there are now more than 200,000 cancer survivors in Ireland - a record number that will only grow in the years ahead. However, there is so much more we need to do. While survival rates for many cancers have increased dramatically, the outlook for others is still bleak. We can and must do more. That is why it breaks my heart when we have to turn down promising research grant applications.

Despite being on course to invest a record-breaking €30m in cancer research this decade, we can still only fund a small proportion of the great ideas presented to us. Every year we turn away researchers who come with potentially life-saving projects, simply because we don't have enough funds to support them. Each time we ask: are we turning down the breakthrough that's going to make all the difference? Are we saying no to a potential cure?

If we're going to stop cancer this has to change. That's why Daffodil Day 2019 needs to be the biggest yet.

We have an amazing pool of talented researchers in this country, who are networked into the best cancer centres in the world. As well as improving the lives of Irish patients, they are making a major contribution to the global fight against cancer. Let's help them do more.

Cancer research is a marathon, not a sprint. It takes time, but when a major breakthrough ends up saving thousands of lives, every effort it took to get to that point has been worth it.

By holding a coffee morning, selling some daffodils or just buying a pin today you can be part of that effort.

Averil Power is CEO of the Irish Cancer Society

Irish Independent

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